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April 12th, 2003
Being a Christian When People Are Better Off in Prison

Federal Prison Camp, Maxwell Air Force Base—I was speaking to one of my friends today as we sat by the river inside the Camp. We were talking about life in prison as opposed to life on the outside.
He said “I like it here. My life is better here. On the outside, I was living in substandard housing, had almost no food to eat, and no friends. Here, I have three meals a day, friends. And my housing is decent. I’m better off here.”
When he said this I nearly fell out of my seat. How could a person be better off in prison?
What does freedom matter?
I pondered this. I realized that here in prison we may lose our freedom, but does freedom really matter you are not free from hunger, homelessness, and disease? If you…

April 12th, 2003
Confessions of a Possibly Dangerous Mind

Mirror, mirror on the wall…
I was looking in the mirror recently (I’m trying to lose weight and this is a good way to ruin my appetite…), and I realized that it’s actually healthy to look at myself as I really am.
I know that sounds pretty simplistic, and I’m nothing if I’m not a simple person, but I mean I really take time to look at who I am. Not looking in the mirror to check my hair, or to see if my sideburns are even, or to see if my butt looks big in these jeans (all right, I’ll admit I’ve never looked for that). But I look in the mirror to see who I really am…versus the person that I just want other people to see.
And this is basically the first step I make to start seeing how God really…

April 12th, 2003
Scripture Reflections for Sundays in Lent

Readings:
Jeremiah 31:31-34
Hebrews 5:7-9
John 12:20-33
I live in an ugly building. It’s a brown and teal low-rise that winds around a parking lot like a drunken staircase flipped on its side. Not surprisingly, the building was constructed in the 1960s when, apparently, creative architecture called for convoluted hallways and unmarked doors at every corner. My building is a labyrinth. Pizza delivery is a nightmare.
Fortunately, in the 1960s, someone also had the genius idea of designing each individual apartment with a six-meter wall of windows. Most tenants take advantage of the light and house endless plants on their windowsills. At dawn, when it’s still early enough to peep through living…

April 10th, 2003
Philip Morris Companies Became Altria Group - So What?

When a corporation like the Philip Morris Companies changes its name, is it a change in deed or just in word?
As the umbrella company that owns such diverse products as Kool-Aid, Altoids, Oscar Meyer, and Miller Beer, Philip Morris Companies changed its name to Altria in January of this year.
It’s a significant milestone for the company that owns the subsidiary Philip Morris, which, in turn, sells the world’s most profitable brand of cigarette?Marlboro.
Since it is widely established that cigarettes cause cancer, the name change begs some obvious questions:
Does the name change reflect a willingness to rely less on tobacco profits and settle tobacco litigation in good faith?
Will the name change…

April 10th, 2003
L.A. Faith Communities Celebrate Easter Their Way

I love the Easter rituals that help me connect with the emotion and significance of this holiest day of the year. So I felt particularly blessed to be present for two different sets of rites as Los Angeles faith communities celebrated Easter according to traditions old and new.
Bringing the river to the city
At St. Thomas the Apostle Church, a Latino parish near downtown Los Angeles, parishioners carrying white candles spilled out into the streets during the Easter Vigil Saturday night. They witnessed more than 30 youth and adults receive the sacrament of baptism and become initiated into the Catholic faith. They are called “the Elect” since it is Catholic belief that it is God who has chosen them to…

April 10th, 2003
We Shared More Than Just a Hometown

Waiting (once again) on the primitive printer in our office, I stared out into space and thought idly about what I was going to eat for lunch. Times Square doesn’t offer much in the means of good food, so I wasn’t off in hungry never-never land for very long.
When I snapped out of it, an unfamiliar face was walking towards me. I work in a very small office where everyone knows one another, so this was an event. I didn’t know this mystery woman, but something about her seemed so familiar. As she got closer I realized that she looked a lot like this timid Colombian girl I knew in college. Hmm, I wonder…
Mystery womanShe smiled sheepishly as she approached and made to walk on past. I stopped her, “Excuse…

April 10th, 2003
Filesharing Isn't Unethical or Killing the Music Business

Lest we forget?
When the Cincinnati Bengals were in the 1988 Super Bowl (yes, really), a local radio station cobbled together rousing stadium anthems with such audio gems as “The Who-Dey Rap,” and the mix was broadcast every day at 5 p.m. “Get those tape recorders ready,” I remember the DJ saying. “?Welcome to the Jungle’ is coming up next.”
The Recording Industry Association of America, it seems, is now furious that technology has facilitated what teenagers have been doing quite harmlessly for years. Music fans are now freed from the ritual of standing next to the stereo, fingers on the play-record buttons, praying that the next song up will be “Walk of Life”?a…

April 10th, 2003
Do Catholics need a Money Makeover?

Recently, I was talking with a group of socially conscious Catholic friends about money. The question came up, “How does being Catholic influence how we think about money?”
Our answers were revealing.
The bummer of bucks
One mentioned Jesus’ parable about it being easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get to heaven. Another noted that the disciples were asked to leave behind all their material possessions on the spot to follow Jesus. A third remembered Jesus overturning the merchants’ tables at the Temple because they were selling things (see box below).
No wonder many of us are operating in our current lives from the point of view that you’re…

April 9th, 2003
The Dull Ache of Addiction in Owning Mahowny

It’s the early 1980′s. Philip Seymour Hoffman is Dan Mahowny, a Toronto bank manager whose body is as soft and slow as his mind is sharp and quick. Mahowny moves through a geography of parking garages and offices and airplanes in grey-clad mediocrity. It’s not that he seems too kind to commit extraordinary crimes; he seems too dull.
But Mahowny, whose character is based on the actual story of Brian
Molony, manages to embezzle $10 million Canadian dollars. He invents clients and accounts that do not exist; he skims off the top of those that do. So we watch Mahowny whisper demands to his bookie over bank phone lines, and we watch him sweat as he fills out a bogus business loan. Lies make you hide, and…

April 9th, 2003
Mister Rogers Helped Us All to Grow Up

I was talking with my wife recently about how someone
we know shelters her children. She protects her children from the daily tragedies that she encounters and controversy never enters her home. If someone calls with a problem that needs immediate attention, and the children are nearby, she informs the person that she “can’t talk now, because ‘Susie’ is here.”
I mention this because I worry this does more harm than good. Children certainly don’t need to be exposed to all the horrors that we adults encounter. But children eventually need to know how to deal with tragedy. They need to be able to sort out feelings of sadness, pain, regret, guilt, and even the feelings that surround…

April 9th, 2003
Billy Goats, the Bambino, and the Charlie Brown in All of Us

According to baseball superstition, the Chicago Cubs and the Boston Red Sox are cursed. The Red Sox curse came in 1920, courtesy of Babe Ruth, the Bambino himself, whom the Sox sold to the Yankees so their owner could fund a theatre. The Sox had always gotten the best of the Yankees before that, but since the sale of Ruth … not so much.
The Cubs’ history is similar. In 1945, the owner of the Billy Goat Tavern was prohibited from bringing his goat (believe it or not) to Wrigley Field for the World Series. He then placed a curse on the team saying that “if the goat can’t come to the game then the Cubs will never, ever win the World Series again.”
So far, the Babe and the Goat have the upper hand.
The more…

April 8th, 2003
The Ethical Quandary of Embedded Journalists

Do “embedded journalists,” that is, those assigned to cover and travel with a particular military unit, make for balanced war coverage?
As a journalist I believe embedding journalists with our troops is higly problematic.
Say the word
To begin with one needs only to look at the military term: “embedding.” The military’s selection of that word says it all; by definition it sets up a troubling precedent. When you ‘embed’ something you “introduce it as an integral part,” according to the Websters Third International Dictionary.
Should war journalists ever be an integral part of any military unit? Once they are, wouldn’t they lose their impartiality?…

April 5th, 2003
Single vs. Married Envy in the Lives of Women Today

Our mothers and bosses spent their careers intent on proving themselves the equals of men. The focus of their comparison on issues of freedom, autonomy, agency, and compensation was across the gender line. The force of shared vision bound thousands upon thousands of them together in a movement of solidarity.
Whither to compare?As a result of their efforts, for us, only one generation their junior, the question of the equality of the sexes is settled. We still have a ways to go with questions like pay equity and ordination. But, largely, we have ceased comparing ourselves to men.
Our mothers have shown that biology is not necessarily destiny. Yet, most of us are by choice, habit, or lack of imagination, thinking…

April 4th, 2003
Def Poetry Jam on Broadway

From ghetto to ghetto
In his 1990 essay “Can Poetry Matter?” Dana Gioia mourned the relegation of poetry to an “intellectual ghetto” where poets only write for other poets and the people languish on a diet of politician’s soundbites and US Magazine. In the decade since, Gioia has changed his elegy to a toast. This happy renaissance is due, in part, to the Spoken Word scene that brought poetry back to the actual ghettos in the form of “slams,” freeing it from university faculty lounges and infusing it with the fresh beats of break dancing Hip-Hop heads along the way.
Russell Simmons, the man who brought us Run DMC, Kurtis Blow , Martin Lawrence, Chris Tucker and others…

April 3rd, 2003
On the Job Where Columbia Should Have Landed

The space program is so flatly braided into my life that I use it as an alarm clock. When an orbiter (for that is the proper, NASA-ized name for the part of the space shuttle that carries astronauts about the earth) returns to Kennedy Space Center at the end of a mission, it rips two massive sonic booms across the face of Central Florida. The colonies of mobile homes clustered around Tampa Bay, the great golf ball of EPCOT, my little square of an apartment in Cape Canaveral: they all tremble before the engineering marvel that is man’s first reusable spacecraft.
I work in education at the Kennedy Space Center, and there is an awful sense of d?j? vu when I walk along the Astronaut Memorial and bend down to read letters…

April 3rd, 2003
The Spiritual Value of Bitching to God

The Bible’s full of angry people. Noah’s mad at his sons, Moses is mad at the Hebrews, and Mrs. Job, after a day of awful luck, tells her husband to “curse God and die.”
Not surprisingly, this anger helped fuel a peculiar type of prayer amongst the people of ancient Israel: the lament. The lament is a formal complaint to God in the hopes that things will get better. Many of the Psalms bristle with rage. It’s not just rage for the sake of rage, though. The point of a lament is to get God’s attention.
Earth to God
One of my professors wants God’s attention. Recently, he recruited several of us theology students to help him organize a whole lament worship service, a bittersweet…

April 2nd, 2003
The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue

This being my first year as a paying Sports Illustrated subscriber, I was watching my mailbox this week with a mixture of curiosity and indignance. It’s Swimsuit Issue Season, that dreary time of year between the Super Bowl and Opening Day when the bronzed, sultry airbrushed babes beckoning from warmer climates find their way into the eager hands of, uh, rabid sports fans.
I’ve seen the swimsuit issue for a number of years and the ensuing onslaught of letters that follow, some praising SI editors for “thawing the frozen tundra of winter,” and others lamenting that “this is not what we had in mind when we bought an SI subscription for our ten-year-old son.” The letter topics…

April 2nd, 2003
Satire of Our Overwrought Age Lamely Delivers

Anger Management is silly and funny and deserving of such small words. Director Peter Segal serves up a campy, if homophobic, reply to our therapeutic culture and the inordinate fear of a near-apocalypse that now fills our schools and airports and offices.

Adam Sandler is Dave Buznik, a meek “executive assistant” for a pet products company, who has spent the last two decades trying to blend in; still recovering from being de-pantsed just when he was about to kiss his dream girl back when Dukes of Hazzard were all that. His life is deeply dull, save for the bright brown eyes of Linda (Marisa Tomei), his devoted girlfriend.
While flying from his New York home to St. Louis, Dave is belittled in the usual fashion–his…

April 1st, 2003
Stalinist State May Dump U.S., Find New No. 1 Enemy

As the war in Iraq continued to rage, North Korea last week made some clear signs of its displeasure at being ignored by its traditional enemy, the United States.
As news reports continued to leak that North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Il, has not appeared in public for more than 45 days, rumors circulated that the reclusive leader is actively courting new enemies for his country, a blatant jab at the U.S. for not fulfilling its duties as a good and faithful foe.
The signs of this included a mysterious truckload of dead flowers delivered to Capitol Hill last Thursday with the simple message, “Won’t have us to kick round, Amerika,” written in English, Korean, and Swahili. When authorities attempted…

April 1st, 2003
Papal Residence Goes ‘the Way of the Fabulous'

The “Fab Five” have done a complete make-over of the Vatican this past week prompting His Holiness, Pope John Paul II, to say, “It is as it was.” Carson Kressely the golden-locked fashion guru of the Fab 5 followed up with, “I guess that means that if one gay guy could make a masterpiece out of the Sistine Chapel then five gay guys can do a whiz bang job on the rest of the place.”
The Vatican—in colorKressley had petitioned the pope to “add a bit more color to his papal wardrobe, white is so 1984.” He’s brought out a new Papal Purple Cape, soon to be on sale at Target for the general public. “You too can be infallibly dressed,” says Kressley.
Thom…

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